A Girl for All Time’s Frances Cain explores why the toy industry still needs to offer ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ products, without telling kids that one is better than the other.

Gender defender

Recently I came across an article in the Chicago Tribune by the brilliant Heidi Stevens in which she spoke about the fallacy of shielding boys from reading books that star girls in them.

In Steven’s article, she interviews author Shannon Hale (who is female), whose books are strictly categorised as ‘girls books’ because some of them, but not all, feature a female protaganist.

In fact, at a recent Book Day launch in a local school, Hale’s audience consisted only of girls. The boys were shuffled off elsewhere while she gave her presentation. She was told the boys would not be interested because there was a girl on her book cover. Yet when male writers presented their books, with boys on the cover, both boys and girls were included in the audience.

Hale goes on to add that the belief that boys won’t like books with strong female protagonists and the shaming that can occur from parents, peers, etc if they do, sends the message that girls, and their stories, are second best and not worth reading about.

This hit very close to home for me, not only as a mother but also as a designer and manufacturer/publisher of books and toys that feature strong girl protagonists.

It’s a dangerous message to give our boys – and our girls – that boys won’t be interested in what girls do or think. Just imagine an entire school full of boys being told that they won’t be interested in what a (female) author has to say about books she has written that features girls. With 50 per cent of our population being female, we are telling our children from an early age that half of the human race is second rate.

This can easily be extrapolated to the toy industry and the playground.

How many of us have heard the word ‘girlie’ thrown around in a derogatory fashion, amongst children? And, if we’re honest, amongst adults?

And as parents, shop owners, manufacturers, and major brands we can – and should – be counteracting this by offering boys and girls toys that appeal to both without telling them overtly or covertly that one is better than the other.

Letting children choose their own play patterns without imposing our own ideas of what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for them will encourage children to explore their own individual likes, dislikes and interests, and will help them grow into adults who can relate to and empathise with the world around them.

Am I suggesting that we strip toys of having either feminine or masculine traits and making them all gender neutral? Absolutely not.

I love that our range celebrates all things ‘girlie’ and does it in an intelligent and thought-provoking way.

The fact is that we are all either one gender or the other, and the toy and book industries need to reflect – and celebrate – this fact in a creative and engaged way that embraces all children and helps them become tolerant and thoughtful adults.

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